.: Bob Williams' Verlinden Napoleonic Sapper/Pioneer

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Types of military forces in the Napoleonic Wars

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The types of military forces in the Napoleonic Wars represented the unique tactical use of distinct military units, or their origin within different European regions. By and large the military forces during the period had not changed significantly from those of the 18th century, although their employment would differ significantly.

Military forces during the Napoleonic Wars consisted largely of the three principal combat arms, and several combat support services, and included the infantry, cavalry, artillery, engineers, and logistics troops which were called the army train during the period. The period gave a start to what are today military staffs to help administer and organise forces in the field and in garrisons, and supervise training of conscripts and recruits. Much of the staff work was performed by staff officers and often Aide-de-camps to senior officers, and included the officers of the Quartermaster general.

Combat Arms

Combat Arms of the Napoleonic Armies were those troops that did most of the killing and dying on the battlefields of the wars. For most of the troops this meant either facing their enemy's musket and rifle fire at about 150 yards, being fired on by artillery firing cannon balls and canister ammunition, or fighting with the sabres, lances and bayonets.



Support Services

Support services were all the multitude of troops that ensured the Combat Arms could manoeuvre and fight.

  • Administrative staffs
The administrative staffs of the armies were largely responsible for the operational matters relating to the conduct of campaigns such as obtaining intelligence, transmitting orders, and ensuring the delivery of ammunition to troops.
  • Quartermaster staffs
The quartermaster staffs during the period were largely responsible for ensuring the armies had adequate living quarters and provisions (water, food and clothing) for troops and animals to continue the campaign. They also often served in the intelligence gathering capacity as Quartermaster scouts due to their need to be located somewhat ahead of the marching troops when surveying the locations for suitable camp-sites or bivouacs.
  • Engineers
Usually part of the artillery Arm, the military engineers were responsible for the building and destruction of field defences, conduct of sieges, and construction and demolition of bridges.
  • Pontonniers
The pontonniers continued in their 18th century role of erecting the pontoons that were used to cross rivers where no bridge was available, or where one was destroyed by the enemy.
  • Sappers
Sappers, also known as pioneers, were originally the troops that were used for digging trenches and fortifications during sieges. By the time of the Napoleonic Wars a detachment of sappers was usually serving with infantry and cavalry regiments to help with demolition of gates and fences to allow easier movement by these units. Sappers were chosen for their large size and physical strength. A distinctive piece of equipment of a sapper was the axe, usually a double-handed implement with a broad head.

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